Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged has been referred to as the most influential book of the 20th Century. It was written in 1957 and barely broke into the Publishers Weekly Top Ten for that year. Nearly 60 years later the other nine books on the list have faded in popularity, but not Atlas Shrugged. Ever heard of the #1 book of 1957, By Love Possessed by James Gould Cozzens? In 2015 a Google search yields about 11,000 matches. Meanwhile, #10 Atlas Shrugged — has over 1.8 million Google results, not bad for a 1,200 page tome with no wizards or magic.
So who reads and is influenced by Atlas Shrugged? Not big government liberals. Rand, who lived in Russia during the early years of its communist era, deftly describes the inherent ineptitude that accompanies a centrally controlled economy. She wrote Atlas Shrugged in the 1950's at the beginning of the Cold War and described an America on the road to socialism. In the ensuing decades, government control of various aspects of the economy has only increased so the modern reader sees much more of the impact of government interference in the economy than the 1950's reader. Liberals don’t burn books, but they make sure that books that promote anti-liberal ideas don’t get the exposure that liberal books do in liberal venues like college campuses and left leaning media. If a liberal has a copy of Atlas Shrugged on his or her bookshelf, it is not there because he or she agrees with its message.
The audience attracted to Atlas Shrugged is the one disillusioned with liberalism; which includes conservatives. But the attack on government incompetence is only part of the message of Atlas Shrugged. Rand’s central theme is that people need to be more selfish: America can only achieve greatness if people embrace selfishness. In John Galt’s lengthy radio address, Rand expounds on the rational reasons why self-interest should trump all other values, and then attacks the curious combination of religion and socialism, strange twins rarely seen together in America.
John Galt’s speech is long and ponderous and many an Atlas Shrugged reader has skipped over this yawn-inducing section of the book. Ayn Rand took two years to write just this part of her book and it feels like two years to slog through it.
I will not argue whether Ayn Rand was a genius, nor will I argue whether Atlas Shrugged is a book worth reading. I will argue, however, against her championing of self-interest and disparaging religion. Those who follow and promote such a philosophy will end up as unhappy and diminished as she ended up. Ayn Rand rejected conservatives as much as liberals. Her Objectivism, based on reason and atheism, is the philosophy she promotes. Anyone who reads Atlas Shrugged is getting a broken, anti-God message.
In Atlas Shrugged and Jesus Wept, I present a defense of the Judeo-Christian world view that Rand criticized. Think of Atlas Shrugged meets It's a Wonderful Life. The reader, who has not read Atlas Shrugged, can read Atlas Shrugged and Jesus Wept and, through the eyes of a rookie angel named George and his mentor angel Clarence, learn the story of Dagny Taggart and John Galt. George decides his intervention can influence Dagny and the other followers of John Galt to turn from selfishness to self-sacrifice, just as an intervention worked for him when he was alive. Can Taggart and Galt choose faith over reason?
For those familiar with John Galt’s speech, you will notice that George’s version in Chapter Sixteen is a section-by-section rebuttal where Rand’s words are turned from an attack on Christianity to a defense of Christianity. The section of the book in Chapter Eighteen pays homage to another writer, which you will easily recognize. And for those with a sharp eye, you will see at least one “Easter Egg” in each chapter. See if you can figure out what it is.
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